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On Amino Acids, Proteins, And Ethnobotany In Brain And Body Performance

by Mark Cammack    May 28, 2018

antique desk mirror reflecting the amino acid L-glycine

Mirror, mirror, in the lab, which form of amino do I have? The mirror of life sees and uses the L-forms of amino acids.

This article is by popular demand. I have been asked questions many times over the years that pertain to the role of amino acids and proteins in human performance.

If we gaze into a mirror, we see a mirror image. By placing the left hand in front of the looking glass we have a reflection. Notice that the image may resemble how your right hand appears. This is called handedness or chirality in chemistry. Amino acids are interesting. While they can have the right version, the mirror of life prefers the left form. We are going to go with the types that nature likes.

Glutamine can be used by the brain in addition to blood sugar or glucose as an energy source. A number of persons eat a low carbohydrate diet. They may experience ketosis, where ketone bodies are being used for fuel, and there is the possibility of lowered blood sugar levels. Some have supplemented with glutamine in an effort to keep their brains running properly as they do this. Usually this is done while attempting to lose body fat or for other health reasons.

Athletes, especially those who train seriously, may have concerns about immunosuppression, the lowering of the effectiveness of the body's immune system following exercise. This can also happen when a person overtrains or goes beyond their body's recovery capacity. The amino acids glutamine, glycine, and cysteine may help support the manufacture of glutathione in the body. Glutathione is so important that our lives depend on it. This is an antioxidant that helps with our immune functioning and detox abilities with certain toxins. It is desirable to maintain healthy levels of glutathione for well-being. Some athletes have used glutamine supplementation to help augment this. It may be even better to consider the glutamine, glycine, and cysteine trio.

Following bouts with fatigue following toxin exposure, I found that cysteine in the form of NAC or N-acetylcysteine, was beneficial. This provides sulfur, which is a sticky substance in the body and fortunately sticks to many toxic things. This may help to get undesirables out. The human body should be like a quality private club with good people. We do not want rowdies coming in only to annoy everyone and tear the place up. Glutathione and cysteine act as bodyguards to kick out the bad guys if they arrive.

Lysine, especially when combined with Vitamin C, is needed for collagen and muscle tissue synthesis, blood vessel integrity, and may act as an anti-viral. Lysine tends to break down when we cook protein rich foods. This is good to know if we want to keep from having a rate-limiting situation. If a necessary amino is in short supply, it is like trying to put up a superb building without the needed materials. Our workers then have to stop or slow the construction project. We lose time and efficiency. That is not what we want with our body. To prevent rate-limiting, adequate protein either in the form of food or with a supplement is to be considered.

When thinking of tryptophan, I have visions of Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. While Hypnos was the deity of sleep, the saying that became known for deep slumber was to go into the arms of Morpheus. Hypnosis and the drug morphine were named after these entities due to the heavy sleep and dream-like states involved. Tryptophan is often associated with turkey consumption and the sleepiness experienced by some persons when eating this food. We can also have a feel-good mood effect as serotonin can be elevated with tryptophan intake.

So we may see specific outcomes with individual amino acids. Now what about complete protein sources?

If we want to look at what is effective, we need to see what is used easily and efficiently in the body. A snazzy term for this is bioavailability. Whole egg is ranked at 100, and is a gold standard for protein quality. I have seen consistent results in athletes gaining muscle and losing fat with whole eggs and egg protein powder. Other possibilities are steak and egg, milk and egg, beef, and chicken. These may be augmented with various types of beans such as the black and navy varieties. Take note that cow's milk can cause bloating in some persons. It may be useful when trying to gain weight and if not lactose intolerant, yet it can contribute to loss of definition. Some persons seem to do better with goat's milk.

Is it possible that the environment can affect our amino acid balance and need? Absolutely. If we encounter a virus that impacts glutathione levels, the amino acids glutathione is made from could be in greater demand.

I was at an international social recently. A lot of the food was Romanian. I was told that they eat quite a bit of cabbage in Romania. Immediately I thought of ethnobotany, the practice of using certain plants in given cultures. Foods and herbs can help us survive in environments.

Cabbage is of interest because it is high in glutamic acid and a source of sulfur. Glutamic acid may be converted into glutamine in the body, and sulfur as we mentioned helps remove toxins.

Romania has had concerning levels of pollutants in the air and water. Heavy metals are present. Cabbage has the raw materials that the body can use for detoxification. It would make sense that such a helpful food would be eaten in quantity there.

When we think of what will benefit us the most in obtaining healthy happy lives and performing well, awareness is crucial. Sometimes a little insight can make a lot of difference.


Photo © Copyright 2018-2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved. Adapted by author from work of Alex Lopez.

© Copyright 2018 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.